“Fighting is essentially a masculine idea; a woman’s weapon is her tongue.”
My wife and I have been watching old episodes of Family Guy recently. We don’t watch television, as a general rule, so we never watched a lot of TV shows when they aired. Instead, we catch them on Netflix. My wife’s rule for defining a good episode is when the episode doesn’t follow the pattern of Peter Griffin doing something stupid, hilarity ensues. I think the reason that she doesn’t like those episodes (which comprise, in my scientific estimation, 97% of all Family Guy episodes) is because Peter Griffin gets some crazy idea and never listens to his wife.
She’s scared I’m going to turn into Peter Griffin.
This is impossible, naturally. I don’t have a dog who can talk.
Does this mean that 55% of married men have dogs who can talk?
According to a recent study by the American Institute of CPAs, 55% of married couples say that they do not set aside time to talk about financial issues.
Head, meet sand.
Resultantly, 27% of married couples say that disagreements about money will result in arguments, with the average couple getting into a squabble three times a month.
That’s almost once a week. Instead of looking forward to the weekend to relax, kick back, watch the games, putter in the garden, and whatnot, these couples have a fight to look forward to.
This is where Monkey Brain gets to sit at the wheel and drive.
You’ve probably heard of the fight-or-flight response that we have when reacting to stress. We see something that causes us to have stress, and our bodies prepare to either run away or fight. We release adrenaline and cortisol, which flood the body in preparation to appropriately react. Once the event is over, and we’re either savoring the mammoth steaks or cowering in a bush, the hormone levels drop, and everything returns to normal.
Unfortunately, when we anticipate stress, we go through the same response. A study from the University of Trier in Germany showed that people who anticipate stressful situations also release cortisol into their systems. Too much cortisol flowing around in your body for a long period of time has negative health effects, such as your brain telling you to eat higher fat foods, which causes weight gain. Anticipating stress also has been shown by scientists at Cal Berkeley and Stanford University to prevent cellular reproduction.
Furthermore, there are negative effects from anticipating the next squabble when it comes along. Anticipatory stress makes us dumber. Namely, as a study from the University of Michigan and the University of Iowa shows, anticipatory stress affects our decision making and our ability to learn. So, when we think about fighting about money, or when we do fight about money, we fail to properly identify good solutions (budgeting, controlling our urges, etc.). We set ourselves up for a vicious and downward cycle. We fight about money, then we stress over the next fight, and then we fight again and are unable to extract ourselves from the fight because we’re flooded with cortisol. Lather, rinse and repeat.
Instead of being proactive and tackling money issues before they become problems, we let ourselves slip into the destructive cycle of fighting over money. These fights pop up because of two common issues:
- There is an unexpected expense. This could be something big like having to replace the car to something small like going to a restaurant for lunch. Regardless of the size or the cause, it’s an expense that you weren’t prepared for, and you’re not prepared to discuss how to deal with it. One spouse holds it in reserve and then beats the other spouse over it: “You…did…not…need…that…183 inches…#$*$#*$*#…TV!!!”
- There is a disagreement over needs and wants. Monkey Brain likes to disguise wants as needs: “NEED 183” TV!” The problem is that once we’ve told ourselves we need something, then it’s really hard for us to back down off of that perch and realize that it’s simply a want. We find it hard to come to grips with the difference because of fear. We fear that if we really acknowledge what our true needs are (food, water, shelter), then we’ll lose some of the things that we really want (183” TV). So, we let Monkey Brain convince us that our wants are needs when they really aren’t.
How can you make sure that you and your spouse are on the same page when it comes to finances?
- Set aside specific time to talk about money. The biggest key to solving the problems of money fighting is avoidance. We avoid talking about money until it rears its ugly head somewhere, and we fight about it. Instead, if we’re proactive, then we can control the discussion and can talk about shared goals and the concerns each of us has.
- Think of solving financial issues as a challenge. A Harvard, UCSF, and University of Rochester study showed that if we reframe our thinking about problems and think of them as challenges instead, we have a positive psychological and physiological response to the event. It’s the difference between someone who gets stage fright and the Olympic skier. Both face stress, but how they approach the stress determines how they perform.
- Get an outside opinion. Sometimes, you get locked into a spiral and can’t see outside of your own box. It may take an outside expert to point something out and to give you that “a-ha” moment that pulls you out of the downward spiral.
Being proactive and open with your communications will go a long way in preventing the fighting that many of the couples in the AICPA survey talked about. It will also help you if you are one of those couples who fight over money. Communication won’t make you more money, but it will help ensure that the money you do make goes to the places where you want it to go.
Otherwise, you may find yourself playing out the role of Peter Griffin. The difference between Peter Griffin’s life and yours is that Lois is truly fictional – nobody would ever be that forgiving in real life!